Google Won’t Save the Enterprise

wesley_googleAttempting to predict the often promised Google enterprise revolution has become somewhat of a enigma on the internet for some time.   Not a day passes without at least one tech blog or another building on the energy of a particular Google technology, suggesting that perhaps tomorrow, or possibly next week, or maybe even later this year (or is it next?), Google will finally make significant inroads into the enterprise market.  I feel a great disturbance… as if a million people were collectively holding their breath, and suddenly exhaled.  Often cited as Google’s entry points into the enterprise are underground tool adoption by way of Shadow IT or the legitimization of BYOD.  These points of entry are often touted as the means to allow Google magic to sweep into the long-beleaguered enterprise and issue a new renaissance in collaboration technology.  But the entire concept of Google successfully disrupting the enterprise is caught in a warp bubble; it’s just not going to happen.  Google in the enterprise is the equivalent of a young, eager, rainbow-shirted Wesley Crusher, brilliant at discovering and using technology, but totally uninterested in the customer.

Google certainly has made inroads with Google Docs and Apps, earning praise and admiration from many in the small business and startup world where cheap as free goes a long way.   Vocal proponents are quick to point out that Google Docs spells the imminent death of Microsoft Office, and that all shall kneel before Zod.  And so articles like this CNN money write-up are eager to jump on the Zod Google bandwagon, perhaps in exchange for some part of Australia, claiming that such exuberance must apply to the enterprise as a whole:

“But Google’s suite is quickly becoming the standard for tech startups, small businesses and newer large companies. Demographics are on Google’s side as well. Those who have grown up with the Internet don’t really think twice about using something that is free, saves your work in a centrally accessible location, and makes it easy to share and collaborate with others.”

It all seems so plausible.  All that unfettered collaborative simultaneous editing, and fire-and-forget cloud storage seems to be ideal for small teams quickly hashing out ideas fast and loose in a co-working loft.  And for the exact price of free, collaboration tools like Google Docs seem at first to have no equal.  But teams that do operate in that environment, in all their enthusiasm, fail to understand that such a model breaks down when scaling up.  The criticality of the content also becomes a factor – a misplaced sentence in a to-do list or draft business plan is no big deal, but a misplaced word in a legal document or engineering specification could spell disaster.  As change becomes more numerous and more critical to the end product – change management becomes absolutely essential.  Otherwise you begin to fight battles with change coordination, unintended change, and loss of integrity.  But many of the largest proponents have yet to deal with such scenarios and as the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, all you see are nails.

Google’s model for business applications does not follow a change management paradigm – it’s more of along the lines of collaboration anarchy.  It’s meant to be easy and fast, but little more.  Case in point: it took almost 7 years (early 2007 to late 2013) since Google Docs first appeared  before even rudimentary change information (the activity stream) was available.  If anything that clearly illustrates what is not important to Google’s collaboration paradigm.

The dependence on public cloud both for storage and as software delivery also complicates adoption.  Enterprise has been classically on-premise and is now looking towards private and hybrid cloud solutions.  As evidenced by an unfortunate gaff quoted in Forbes, it’s apparent that even Google understands that:

Commenting on the assertion that Google bans cloud backup, sync and sharing service Dropbox from its corporate network, Fried confirmed the fact and justified the move with the ill-advised comment that:

“The important thing to understand about Dropbox, is that when your users use it in a corporate context, your corporate data is being held in someone else’s data center.”

Shutup, Wesley.

In comparison, the enterprise software legacies for any type of data management or collaboration seem rather rigid, antiquated, and down-right totalitarian.  Long, drawn out workflow is the rule of the day.  Silos are chiefly to blame, and ownership is paramount.  You can’t quit silos cold turkey, not even if your CEO personally walks around and punches every silo in the face.  Making that transition is difficult.

Disrupting the enterprise lies in finding the right balance between these extremes, if the classic enterprise is totalitarian and Google is more like anarchy, then we need the software equivalent of a democratic republic.  Could Google invent this middle ground?  Do they have the technology?  Oh my, yes.  But there’s a small problem.  You see, they’re just not all that interested.  In fact, you could say they don’t give a flip.  And why should they?

Google arguably is not really in the software business.  Huh, what?  Sure, they produce quite a bit of software, but they don’t sell or support very much of it.  Instead it would be more correct to say that they’re in the data aggregation business, and they provide the tools necessary – most often free of charge – to allow everyone and everything to help them achieve these ends.  And they are very very good at this.  Android, Gmail, Google Docs all aren’t intended to be profitable enterprises in of themselves, but they are elemental means to a much grander end.  An end driven by amassing data, primarily from an advertising and search perspective.  That is why the divide between consumer and enterprise remains puzzling to Google, and that trend will likely continue.